Pink bollworms emerging from
a damaged cotton boll.
is the most important cotton pest in the world," entomologist Thomas J.
Henneberry declares. "It's found in almost every cotton-producing country
and has caused millions of dollars of damage and lost acreage in the last 35
years in the United States."
Henneberry is the research leader for
ARS' Western Cotton Research Laboratory
in Phoenix, Arizona. Some of the findings from years of pink bollworm research
at this lab are being used by the National Cotton Council (NCC) Pink Bollworm
Action Committee in a cooperative program to eradicate the pest.
In its adult, or moth, stage, the pink bollworm lays its eggs
on cotton bolls. The eggs hatch into larvae that eat the cottonseeds and damage
and discolor the fiber. According to the NCCa trade organization
representing the U.S. cotton industrytotal costs to cotton producers are
more than $21 million annually in prevention, controls, and lost yields.
There have been many attempts to get rid of this pest, but
those involved with the program think they may finally succeed. ARS conducted
the initial pink bollworm research in Hawaii back in 1915, since most believed
the insect would enter the U.S. mainland eventually. Two years later, it
entered Texas in infested cottonseed. By 1965, it had spread throughout
southern California and the southwestern United States.
ARS has studied four general eradication approaches over the
years. A combination of these technologies will be used in the program, which
will rely on close partnerships with cotton producers. The first is to create a
host-free period by shortening the growing season. This would make it harder
for the pest to survive to the following season.
A second facet of this program is transgenic pest-resistant
cotton. ARS researchers are working with industry to develop cotton that would
not be destroyed by pink bollworms and other lepidopteran insect pests.
The third technique is to disrupt mating. Female pink bollworms
release a scent so that the males can find them to mate. ARS and other
researchers have developed methods of using a powerful version of this scent
that, when released in cotton fields, confuses the males and makes finding the
females nearly impossible.
The final part of the program will be release of sterile pink
bollworm moths into cotton fields. But this only works when the population of
pink bollworms is already low, says Nate Dechoretz, chief of integrated pest
control for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Key ARS
rearing research, with modifications by USDA's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service, has allowed for large-scale moth production. Dechoretz's
CDFA branch is capable of growing up to 30 million moths a day for the
Essential to the program's success will be pink bollworm
population monitoring, transgenic cotton resistance management, and data
analysis and interpretation, Henneberry says.
The eradication program is already under way and is proposed
for three phases in different locations in the southwestern United States and
northern Mexico. It will be completed in 2004 or 2005.By David Elstein,
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Crop Protection and Quarantine, an
ARS National Program (#304) described on the World Wide Web at
longstanding nature of the pink bollworm problem worldwide and the likely
development of areawide management programs in the future prompted three ARS
scientists to produce a comprehensive unannotated bibliography of world
literature on the pink bollworm. Single copies are available, while supplies
last, from Steven E. Naranjo, USDA-ARS-PWA, 4135 East Broadway Rd., Phoenix, AZ
85040-8803. The bibliography is available as an Adobe Acrobat pdf at
and is searchable online at
where the authors will also post yearly addenda.
"Ousting Pink Bollworm From Cotton Fields" was published in the November 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.